Those who took one look at Brittany Ozarowski had no doubt she was battling cancer. Her face was drawn and gaunt. She weighed a mere 80 pounds, hobbled gingerly on a cane and complained of the toll chemotherapy and radiation treatments were taking on her fragile body.
Neighbors and friends wanted to help so much they gladly put donation jars on store counters, pulled cash out of their own pockets and organized fundraisers that together raised tens of thousands of dollars. Ozarowski also had a website showing her in a wheelchair next to the plea: “Help Save My Life.”
But then people began to wonder: Why didn’t she lose her hair after chemotherapy? Why didn’t she show up for a free exam at a neurologist? Why did she hang up when a man who ran a cancer charity offered $10,000 in treatments paid directly to a hospital?
The explanation from prosecutors hit this middle-class Long Island suburban community like a punch in the gut: The 21-year-old Ozarowski wasn’t battling cancer at all, they say, but was scamming people out of their money to feed a growing substance addiction.
Prosecutors say there is no way of knowing how much money Ozarowski pocketed in the alleged scam, because so many of the donations were in cash.
There was $317 in the collection jar when she was arrested soliciting donations outside a supermarket, and investigators say there were at least two dozen jars in restaurants, pizzerias and stores across Long Island that Ozarowski collected from regularly over the past year.
More than 60 potential victims have called prosecutors since the arrest, along with dozens of cancer patients who have called just to vent their outrage.
Ozarowski told various versions of where her cancer was, prosecutors said. Patricola became suspicious when the young woman explained not losing her hair after chemotherapy because of “special vitamins.”
Ozarowski worked for a time as a receptionist. She is being held on $75,000 bail after pleading not guilty to grand larceny, forgery and other charges in a 24-count indictment. If convicted, she could get up to seven years in prison.